A Ghost at 40 Fathoms
by Brendon Baillod
Reprinted with permission from author
Somewhere in the depths of Lake Michigan between the ports of Sheboygan and Manitowoc lie the remains of a little schooner called the GALLINIPPER. She would be a minor footnote in Lake Michigan history were it not for the discovery of her suspected remains in May of 1994 by a commercial fisherman. The net-draped wreck in 200+ feet of water with her masts still standing may or may not be that of the GALLINIPPER, but the possibility of her discovery has provoked a number of inquiries that reveal this vessel's most interesting and colorful history as well as her historical importance.
The GALLINIPPER, should she be located, would be a unique relic of Wisconsin's formative years, with ties to the War of 1812, the Great Lakes fur trading era and the early history of Wisconsin. Her remains would be the oldest ever located for a commercial vessel in Wisconsin waters. The GALLINIPPER's story actually begins in Pennsylvania in 1774 with the birth of Michael Dousman. Descended from a Dutch noble family, young Dousman quickly became bored with the pastoral farming communities of Pennsylvania and by the age of 20 he had struck out with his eldest brother John Dousman for the northwestern frontier, leaving his father John, Sr. and his mother Catherine in Pittsburgh. Sometime around 1805, the Dousmans settled on Mackinac Island where they took up a career in fur trading. They learned to speak French and quickly established relationships with the local "voyageurs" and Indians and began to prosper almost immediately. John married Rose LaBorde, the daughter of a prominent French trader and Michael, despite being an American, was highly respected by Indian, French and British alike. Michael formed a friendship with the Milwaukee fur trader and founder, Solomon Juneau and soon owned a large portion of what would later become the City of Milwaukee.
Dousman gained notoriety during the War of 1812 by saving the lives of Americans at Fort Michilimackinac from an impending British attack. Because of Dousman's good relations with the Indians, French and British, he was secretly engaged to negotiate with the British and Indian flotilla sent to take the fort. Dousman was taken prisoner by the British but was concerned that there would be needless slaughter of civilians as there had been in other recent attacks. Under duress, Dousman agreed to give the British information about the location of soldiers and reinforcements at the fort. In exchange, the British agreed to postpone their attack long enough to allow Dousman to return to the fort and move all the civilians to safety. Thanks in part to Dousman, the fort was taken without a single life lost, but many accused Dousman of being a traitor, or at least more concerned with his fur trading profits than his country.
Despite questions about Dousman's wartime activities, he became one of the most prosperous and influential men on the western Great Lakes, and by the end of the war, had established trading stations all over Lake Michigan. He eventually owned significant tracts of land down the Wisconsin coast and throughout the Straits of Mackinac. Dousman continued to prosper and he began to build a fleet of vessels for his fur trading empire. In 1818, he bought his first vessel, the schooner TIGER of Detroit, to transport his furs to eastern Great Lakes ports. Other vessel acquisitions followed, including the schooners MINX, MARINER, WAVE and the brig AUSTERLITZ. Dousman even owned a significant share in the ship MILWAUKIE.
In 1832, Dousman commissioned the building of his first new vessel. He christened her NANCY DOUSMAN, after his daughter. She was built at Black River, Ohio over the Winter of 1832/33 and was launched with two masts and a scroll stem. Her dimensions were 69.0 x 20.6 x 7.0 ft. with a carrying capacity of 85 and 56/95ths gross tons by the builders old measurement system. She was the first vessel to be built by Master Carpenter William Jones. William Jones was the son of Augustus Jones, an early and noted shipbuilder on Lake Erie. Augustus Jones' five sons all became shipbuilders and the Jones family would become a Great Lakes shipbuilding dynasty. Brothers George W., Frederick N. and Benjamin B. Jones all went on to become prolific shipbuilders, constructing over 100 vessels between them.
The NANCY DOUSMAN was launched in the Spring of 1833 and on July 1st she was enrolled at the frontier customs house of Michilimackinac under the command of Captain James Sanderson. She experienced her first difficulty in April of 1834, while delivering a cargo to Fort Mackinac. Explorer and Indian agent Henry Schoolcraft recorded the event in his memoirs as follows:
April 21st 1834. The schooner "Nancy Dousman" arrived in the morning from below. A change of weather supervened. Wind N. E., with snow. The ground is covered with it to the depth of one or two inches. Water frozen, giving a sad check to vegetation.
April 22d 1834. This morning develops a north-east storm, during which the "Nancy Dousman" is wrecked, but all the cargo saved: a proof that the harbor is no refuge from a north-easter. The wind abates in the evening. - Henry Schoolcraft - 30 Years with the Indians.
The NANCY DOUSMAN was repaired and put back in service the same season and in September of 1834, she arrived at Buffalo, NY with a cargo of furs valued at $265,000. She continued in the fur trade, and by May of 1835, was running under Captain James Shooks, making trips every ten days between Buffalo, Detroit, Mackinac, Chicago, Michigan City & St. Joseph. The NANCY DOUSMAN often carried merchendise to the fledgeling communites of the Lake Michigan wilderness as evidenced by the early Mackinac customs house manifests:
- July 11, 1835, the schr. NANCY DOUSMAN, 85 59/95, Capt. James Shook, sailed from Buffalo for Green Bay with a cargo of food stuffs, pipe and shoes.
- April 28, 1836, schr. NANCY DOUSMAN, Capt. Richard Sutliff, sailed from Detroit to Milwaukee with bulk consignments for G. D. Dousman, M. Dousman and others.
- October 28, 1836, schr. NANCY DOUSMAN, 85 59/95 tons, sailed from Detroit to Milwaukee with a cargo of sundries, articles, stoves, cows, copper boiler, iron pots, cittles [sic] (the specific articles consigned to M. Dousman at Mackinac).
In the Summer of 1835, Micheal Dousman sold a minority interest in the NANCY DOUSMAN to Detroit merchant William Brewster and to Buffalo merchants Pratt & Taylor. The group ran the vessel primarily between Buffalo, Detroit, Mackinac and Lake Michigan ports under the command of Captain Nash. In 1838, she sustained significant damage in a stranding a Mission Point on Mackinac Island, and on October 16, 1840 Dousman sold his controlling interest in the vessel to William Dickson of Black Rock, NY who placed her under the command of Captain John Browning.
By 1840, Lake Michigan was no longer a wilderness and Dousman could see the end of the fur trading era fast approaching. The growing town of Milwaukie presented many new opportunites, prompting Dousman to relocate his operations there. Dousman would eventually have four vessels named after his family, including the schooners NANCY DOUSMAN (qv), MICHAEL DOUSMAN (built Milwaukee, 1843), ROSE DOUSMAN (built Milwaukee, 1856) and GEORGE D. DOUSMAN (built Cleveland, 1857). Michael Dousman's son George would become a prominent grain merchant and land owner at Milwaukee, his son Talbot would found the town of Dousman, Wisconsin and his son Hercules would be one of the founding fathers of Prairie Du Chien, Wisconsin and Wisconsin's first millionaire. Michael would serve as a Delegate to the Michigan State Constitutional Convention in 1835 and his sons would do likewise for the State of Wisconsin. Daughter Jane Dousman would marry prominent Milwaukee physician and businessman Erastus B. Wolcott and daughters Nancy and Elizabeth would marry French fur traders. By the time of Michael Dousman's death in 1854, Lake Michigan had been transformed from a mysterious, unexplored wilderness into a freshwater freeway and the Dousman family had played a major role in shaping it. The importance of the Dousman family in the history of Wisconsin and Lake Michigan is consequently hard to over-estimate.
On August 11, 1843, the NANCY DOUSMAN once again came under ownership of the Dousman family when she was purchased by Captain G.C. Vail of Milwaukee for Mr. George D. Dousman. Dousman tried to run the vessel in the grain trade, but the little ship proved too old and small to compete with the larger vessels being built on Lake Erie, and in March of 1844, she was damaged in a stranding on Lake Michigan.
By 1846, the little schooner was beginning to show her age and had developed significant hull rot. Her fate appeared to be sealed when she was driven ashore at Milwaukee that March, sustaining significant damage. At that time, only a small handful of ships had been built at Milwaukee and relatively few vessels were available on Lake Michigan. Nearly all commercial grade vessels of the day were built at eastern Lakes ports. Consequently, the NANCY DOUSMAN's weathered hull was not easily discarded. Within a short time, her hull was purchased by Captain John B. Smith for Jefferson Sinclair of Milwaukee, who hired Milwaukee shipwright Henry Gibson to rebuild and lengthen the vessel:
Schooner " NANCY DOUSMAN."---This vessel we understand, has been hauled upon the ways near Sweet's warehouse, cut in two, and is to be lengthened 25 feet, and have her decks raised. This will increase her tonnage (now 80) to some 130. She is intended for the lumber trade, though when fixed up new she will be able to stow away a good cargo of wheat.----Milwaukee Sentinel - reported in Daily National Pilot, Buffalo, Fri. Morning, March 20, 1846
Isaac Stephenson, later a prominent Wisconsin politician and businessman recorded the event in his memoirs:
"In 1846 Mr. [Jefferson] Sinclair purchased from George Dousman, the "forwarder and warehouse man" of Milwaukee, the schooner "Nancy Dousman" for use in connection with the mill at Escanaba. The vessel, which I hauled out on the ways, was cut in two and lengthened twenty-five feet, rechristened the "Gallinipper" and placed under command of Captain George W. Ford." - Isaac Stephenson, Public Life in Wisconsin
On May 9, 1846, the new, larger schooner slid into the Milwaukee River and began service in the lumber trade:
A LAUNCH.---The new schooner which Mr. J.B. Smith has been building here during the last three months out of the skeleton of the NANCY DOUSMAN, was launched on Saturday afternoon. She is a very handsome vessel, 142 tons burthen, and looks as if she might sail and carry well. Her new name is GALLINIPPER.---Milwaukee Sentinel, May 11. Daily National Pilot, Buffalo, Tues. Morning, May 19, 1846
She was christened GALLINIPPER, after a fast flying, Mosquito-like biting insect. She was likewise a two sticker with a scroll head, but was considerably larger at 95.0 x 21.8 x 7.9 ft. with a carrying capacity of 144 and 89/95ths gross tons by the builders old measurement system. The GALLINIPPER was brought out by Captain George W. Ford and ran primarily out of Milwaukee in the Lake Michigan lumber trade. On August 27, 1847, Captain Smith sold the GALLINIPPER to Milwaukee investors Joseph Smight, Hiram Barber, and Urick H. Persons, while he continued as her master. She ran without incident until the unlucky date of July 7, 1848 when she was blown down off Beacon Island near the Beavers by a freak July gale. She was upbound, light when the blow laid her on her beam ends, disabling her. Captain Smith was able to flag down the propeller ONEIDA, which took her in tow and pulled her into the shallows at Beaver Island. She required extensive repairs and re-rigging, with an overall bill of $3,300, which was nearly half the vessel's value.
On October 26, 1848, the GALLINIPPER was sold to Milwaukee vesselmen Captain James Stewart and Daniel Newhall who ran her primarily out of Chicago under the command of Captain Stewart. She had a successful season in 1849 with no noted mishaps and in early 1850, she was sold to N. Ludington & Co., agents for Jefferson Sinclair and placed under the command of Captain Badenoque. However, the Fall gales of 1850 laid her aground at Milwaukee with a $300 salvage bill. Isaac Stephenson, who served as mate on the vessel relates the account of the storm as follows:
"The first few trips were uneventful but in the early part of September, 1850, while on our way to Escanaba, with the boat light, we ran into a storm. There were eight passengers aboard, a yawl in tow and a horse on deck all bound for Bailey's Harbor. The yawl could not be taken aboard because the schooner was very "crank" when unladen and had capsized two years before at Presque Isle on Lake Huron [sic]. A terrific gale came up and, while fighting the storm from Friday morning to Sunday afternoon, we drifted from what is now called Algoma, then known as Wolf River, twelve miles south of Sturgeon Bay, to a point ten miles south of Racine. The yawl parted its painter and went adrift to the east side of the lake; the horse died at midnight on Sunday when we were off Milwaukee harbor, and the passengers, who had despaired of ever seeing land again, were back where they had started. The storm which we had happily survived was said to be one of the most severe that ever swept Lake Michigan." - Isaac Stephenson, Public Life in Wisconsin
1851 would bring even worse troubles for the GALLINIPPER, finding her sunk at the mouth of Milwaukee Harbor on May 10 with another $300 repair bill. She was pumped out and promptly put back in service.
The GALLINIPPER would meet her end under very familiar circumstances. On Saturday, July 5, 1851, she cleared Milwaukee harbor in ballast under the command of Captain Badenoque in the company of the schooner CLEOPATRA. By July 7, three years to the day from the GALLINIPPER's previous brush with death, the two vessels were off Sheboygan and making good time. Without warning another freak July storm bore down from the west and laid the GALLINIPPER on her side. The storm, described as a "white squall," seemingly appeared out of the blue and was gone just as quickly. Fortunately, the CLEOPATRA was within sight and quickly came to the GALLINIPPER's aid. Captain Badenoque and his crew were taken aboard the CLEOPATRA and brought to Sheboygan where plans were initiated to recover the vessel. Isaac Stephenson, who had purchased an interest in the vessel related the episode as follows:
"After I had made a few trips on the "Gallinipper" as mate the company commissioned me to buy horses, oxen and supplies, another ruse of Mrs. Sinclair's to divert my attention from sailing. Mrs. Sinclair, whose maternal interest in me had not diminished, also pleaded with me to give it up as a career. None the less I was still absorbed in it and during the following year, 1851, I purchased a half interest in the "Gallinipper" on July 5, when she was on her way to Escanaba. This was not a fortunate venture. On July 7, when off Sheboygan the vessel capsized and sank, a total loss although all of the crew were saved. The transaction not having been recorded with the underwriters I saved my outlay for the purchase."
The schooner CROOK examined the vessel shortly after her capsize and found that she had righted herself but had sunk by the bow with only ten feet of her stern still above water.
The GALLINIPPER remained afloat for a few more days. On Wednesday, July 9th, Captain Joseph Edwards of the schooner Convoy came upon the GALLINIPPER and tried to tow her in. His account was related by the Manitowoc Herald:
"The schooner Convoy, Captain Joseph Edwards, from Racine, reports that on the afternoon of Wednesday, about ten miles south east by south from this place, she fell in with the capsized schooner Gallinipper. The Captain made use of every effort to right her, and to tow her off, but could not effect it. He succeeded in taking the mainsail, the main boom and the main gaff, which he has stored with P.P. Smith, merchant of this place. He made fast to her and was able to swing her round but not to tow her from her position. From appearances, some portion of the capsized rigging had become fastened beneath the vessel. She is in 40 fathoms of water, with her taffrail and main mast head exposed."
A few days later, Captain Badenoque went in search of the GALLINIPPER aboard the CLEOPATRA. He scoured the area of her last position, hoping to free her from her bonds, but she had gone to the bottom. She was fully insured and N. Ludington & Co. recovered their $5000 investment in the vessel, but the GALLINIPPER was gone beyond the reach of salvage.
For over 140 years, the GALLINIPPER received little attention, until May of 1994, when commercial fisherman Mike LeClair fouled his nets on an unknown obstruction in deep water between Manitowoc and Sheboygan. LeClair attempted to free his nets and inadvertently brought up the mast of a 19th century sailing vessel. Intrigued, he donated the mast to the Rogers Street Fishing Village Museum at Two Rivers and called local divers to free his nets. Divers Bob Duchrow, Steve Radovan, Kent Bellrichard Jim Brotz, John Steele and George West made trips to the wrecksite and Duchrow and Steele made the deep, treacherous dive to the wreck. The wreck appeared to be a wooden schooner of early design, showing very little wear. It appeared as though she had gone down early in her life. Unfortunately, low visibility, equipment problems and entangling fish nets described as "an underwater tennis court" prompted the divers to abort their dive early.
Is this deep wreck the historic GALLINIPPER? The historical record provides a number of clues, but none appear conclusive. If the reported historical depth of 40 fathoms is to be believed, one wonders how the rigging or masts could have become stuck on the bottom, as the GALLINIPPER's masts were only about 100 ft. high. Perhaps her anchor lodged beneath her and prevented her from being towed. There are certainly a number of other eligible candidates for the identity of the wreck, including the brig ABIAH, lost in the same area on September 4, 1855 and the bark SUCCESS, lost nearby in September of 1863. However, sport divers have recently begun visiting this wreck and in May of 2002, her wheel was reportedly removed by trophy collecting technical divers. It is indeed sad to see this potentially historic vessel being robbed of clues that could establish her identity and possibly provide Wisconsin with a tangible physical link to its fur trading era.
Midwest Pioneers: Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin
Collections and Researches Made by the Michigan Pioneer & Historical Society
Henry Schoolcraft - 30 Years with the Indians
Isaac Stephenson - Public Life in Wisconsin
Richard Wright - Adz, Caulk & Rivets: A History of Shipbuilding Ohio's North Shore
John Brandt Mansfield - History of the Great Lakes, Illustrated
Vessel Enrollment Certificates - Ports of Detroit, Chicago, Michilimackinac & Buffalo
Port of Mackinac Customs House Manifests - Burton Historical Collection
Vessel Licenses & Enrollments for Michilimackinac - Marquette Historical Society
Milwaukee Sentinel - March 20, 1846, May 19, 1846, July 8, 16, 24th, 1851
Manitowoc Herald - July 21st, 1851
Buffalo Whig - May 20, 1835
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser - Vessels Wrecked on the Northwestern Lakes 1819-1847
Erik Heyl Great Lakes Accident Lists, 1847 - 1864 - National Archives of Canada
Underwriters Accident Lists, 1848 - 1851 - Buffalo Commercial Advertiser
Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Group - Internet Newsgroup
Ancestry.com - Online genealogical and historical database